Creating [Healthy] Brand Tension
The most grave mistake made in marketing is, perhaps, the practice of playing it safe. These days, brands that avoid conflict or lack an element of social tension are like a political figure without a party.
Brands that create tension tend to be “stickier” and more relevant than brands that avoid rocking the proverbial boat.
To be clear, creating or causing tension isn’t necessarily about being rebellious, rogue or raucous. It’s more about understanding what forces might be working against you naturally and then capitalizing on that tension.
A simple illustration of this would be Allstate’s “Mayhem” campaign. The ads in the series each focus on a natural point of tension in people’s lives; The young, texting driver, the blind spot, the rodent in the attic, a child throwing a tantrum in the back seat of the car, etc. along with the resulting damage that an happen as a consequence of each of these points of tention. Each ad then ends with the line “If you have 15 minute insurance, you could be paying for this yourself.”
Messaging isn’t the only place to create tension. You can also create audience segments based on natural tension that exists between disparate social groups.
When it comes to defining market segments, many marketers focus on demographics and lifestyles. This tends to create market segments that are defined only in terms of their age, gender, media preferences and common interests. This, in turn, brings information to the table that helps marketers know who their audience is and where to find them. However, this basic information fails to inspire messages and content that elicit visceral responses from its audience by deliberately creating some type of social tension.
A recent study by Brown University in human behavior provides a clue as to where one might look for some natural tension to leverage in the building of a brand.
The study showed that there are two kinds of people in the world. Those who manage risk by staying on the beaten path, and those who manage risk by taking the road less traveled.
The Brown study illustrates two opposing strategies for maximizing rewards. (Remember, there are only two basic motivators for most all human behavior: threats & rewards)
On one side of the coin, you have people who employ a strategy of maximizing rewards by choosing unexplored options in search of better returns. In effect, taking threat by the horns. On the other, you have people who believe the best returns come from previously explored options that pose no imminent threat whatsoever.
To imbue your brand with natural tension, decide which type of person you wish to engage, then construct your messaging accordingly, ignoring or even taunting the other side.
Advocating one group and not the other will, no doubt, narrow your audience. And that’s a good thing. Because, as we know, no brand can be all things to all people.